Local government in Maryland consists of the 23 counties
and Baltimore City. The county structure can be traced
back to earliest Maryland history with Carroll and St.
Mary's counties having been founded in 1637 and the majority
of the other counties organized before the Revolution.
Baltimore City, its charter dating back to 1797, was originally
a municipal corporation in Baltimore County. Under the
Constitution of 1851, Baltimore City became a separate
entity and the Constitution of 1867 established the current
framework of its government.
Forms of county government
Prior to 1948, all county governments followed the commission
form. Now, however, only 11 of the 23 counties are organized
under this type of government: Calvert, Carroll, Cecil,
Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Garrett, Queen Anne's,
St. Mary's, Somerset, and Washington.
- Constitutional and Statutory Basis:
a. Maryland Constitution, art. VII, § 1 - establishes
the authority of a commission form of government with
the General Assembly given full power to legislate for
b. Maryland Annotated Code, art. 25 - sets out the
general power and limitations of the Commission form
- Powers of Commission: Legislative and executive powers
are granted directly by the General Assembly to the
elected Board of Commissioners. The Board decides by
a majority vote and acts as a corporate entity.
- County Statutory Compilation: Laws affecting commission
counties can be found in individual codifications of
the public local laws. These are laws passed by the
General Assembly and affect one or more of the counties.
They are usually worded in broad terms leaving the details
to the county commissioners. Local ordinances and resolutions
adopted by the Board of Commissioners are usually published
in code form. For an up to date listing of these codes,
consult the Maryland County Publications Checklist.
B. Home Rule:
Under this form of local government, the state transfers
legislative power in local matters to the county. However,
if a law is to apply to all counties or to more than one
home rule county, the General Assembly acts. There are
two forms of home rule for counties: charter and code.
- Charter - conversion to the charter home rule form
of government was made possible by a 1915 constitutional
amendment and a 1918 statute. Montgomery County was
the first to take advantage of home rule when it adopted
a charter form of government in 1947. Charter counties
now include Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard,
Montgomery, Prince George's, Talbot, and Wicomico.
- Constitutional and Statutory Basis:
- Maryland Constitution, art. XI-A (Local Legislation
of the Constitution of Maryland) grants the
authority to adopt a charter home rule form
- Maryland Annotated Code, art. 25A - describes
the powers and limitations of the charter county
- Powers of a Home Rule Charter County: Under the
Express Powers Act, the General Assembly grants
home rule charter counties some independence and
permits them to pass legislation that affects only
the county in question. At the same time, the General
Assembly retains legislative power in areas such
as control of public education. In addition, no
local law can conflict with a public general law
or the Constitution of Maryland.
- County Statutory Compilation: Each county approves
a Charter when it votes to have a home rule charter
form of government. The charter contains the rights
and duties of the county and spells out the governmental
structure. The ordinances and resolutions passed
by the Council deal basically with administrative
matters and are codified. Both the charter and "code"
are usually published in the same volume. For an
up to date listing, consult the Maryland County
- Structure of Government: Charter counties have
two variations on governmental structure: Council/Executive
- Council/Executive: Administrative responsibilities
lie with an elected official, the county executive.
The executive prepares the budget and makes
administrative appointments subject to Council
confirmation. Legislative and policy-making
powers rest with the elected county council.
It enacts legislation and establishes programs
and policies to be carried out by the County
- Council/Manager: Both legislative and executive
powers are vested in the elected County Council.
The County Manager is appointed by them to shoulder
as much or as little of the executive workload
as the Council allows. Talbot and Wicomico counties
follow this form of local government.
- Code - This third type of county government is a
combination of the charter and commission forms. A 1966
amendment to the state Constitution and an additional
article to the Code made adoption of code home rule
possible. Under this form, there is no charter, but
the counties have the power to amend, repeal, or pass
local laws. Allegany, Caroline, Kent, and Worcester
counties follow the code home rule form of government.
- Constitutional and Statutory Basis
- Maryland Constitution, art. XI-F (Rule for
Code Counties). The process for acquiring home
rule code status is set forth in this Article.
- Maryland Code, art. 25B (Home Rule for Code
Counties) defines and limits the powers and
duties of code counties and provides the procedure
for a return to prior form of government.
- Powers of a Home Rule Code County: Code counties
are a combination of charter and commission forms
of local government. Code counties do not have a
charter, but they can act on local legislation.
Unlike charter counties, however, the code counties
still have the General Assembly passing some public
local laws for their jurisdiction. The commissioners
have both executive and legislative powers under
- Code County Statutory Compilation: Article 25B
provides for the annual publication of all local
laws enacted, amended, or repealed by the code county
during the year. Public local laws and ordinances/resolutions
are usually published in a "code" volume.
The Maryland County Publications Checklist
contains a listing of these materials.
- Structure of Government: There is no specific
government structure listed for code counties with
the exception of the naming of the governing body
"commissioners." The county codes may
provide for a "pure commission," "commission
elected executive," "commission manager,"
or a "commission administrator."
The city of Baltimore is an independent political and
geographic subdivision that differs from the counties
and municipal corporations in its constitutional and legal
framework. It is an incorporated city with both a city
charter and a home rule charter, giving Baltimore a broad
political power base. Baltimore was first incorporated
in 1796 as a municipality within the boundaries of Baltimore
County. In 1851 it broke away from the county and has
acted as an independent unit since. Under the Constitution
of 1867, the governmental structure of the city was established
with only the General Assembly authorized to make changes.
A. Constitutional and Statutory Basis:
- Baltimore City Charter, art. II - contains the express
powers of the City government and provides detailed
information on the structure of the government.
- Maryland Constitution, art. XI-A - charter home rule
amendment granted Baltimore City the authority to amend
or enact its charter. This power was first used in 1918.
Charters were revised in 1945 and 1964.
B. Powers of the City Government:
- Can issue general obligation debt.
- General Assembly cannot enact local laws for Baltimore
City if the city's Charter has granted it jurisdiction.
- Has been given special zoning powers to attract commercial
C. Structure of Baltimore City Government: Baltimore
City has a strong form of government with both the Mayor
and Council elected. The mayor appoints many boards and
departments and is responsible for their overall supervision.
The Council is the legislative arm of the city and it
is responsible for the passage of city ordinances.
Other forms of local government
A. Municipal Corporations - Under art. XI-E of the Maryland
Constitution, all municipal corporations are entitled
to home rule authority. The General Assembly can pass
legislation affecting these political subdivisions, but
the laws must affect all municipal corporations alike.
- Constitutional and Statutory Basis:
a. Art. XI-E of the Maryland Constitution grants
municipalities home-rule status.
b. Art. 23A of the Maryland Code - sets out the powers
given to the municipal corporations.
c. Art. 23B - The Municipal Corporation Charter Act
of 1955 gives a model for municipal charters.
d. Provisions covering zoning, taxation, annexation,
transportation, and bond issues are located in other
Articles of the Code and can be located through the
- Statutory Compilation:
a. Municipal Charters of Maryland. Compiled by the
State Department of Legislative Reference. Annapolis,
MD: 1990 - (loose-leaf)
B. Bi-County Commissions
- Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
- This commission was created by Chapter 448 of the
Acts of 1927 and has jurisdiction over parks and planning
in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. It is also
responsible for the general development plan of the
Maryland Regional District. Statutory authority is in
art. 28, § 1-101 et seq. of the Maryland Annotated
Code. The Commission consists of 10 members, five from
Montgomery County and five from Prince George's County.
- Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission - This Commission
was created under Chapter 122 of the Acts of 1918. It
consists of six members and is responsible for the maintenance
of the water supply and sewage disposal systems in Montgomery
and Prince George's Counties. The Commission is mandated
to operate sewage disposal plants, waste water plants
and to set customer rates. Statutes controlling this
Commission can be found in Article 29 of the Maryland
C. Tri-County Councils
- Tri-County Council of Southern Maryland - This council
began as a cooperative planning and development agency
on December 6, 1964. Chapter 586 of the Acts of 1966
established it as a Council. Under Chapter 373 of the
Acts of 1984, the Council was given the powers of an
independent agency. Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary's
Counties are members of the Council. There are 29 representatives
who are responsible for economic development, tourism,
environmental projects, and regional resource management.
Article 20 of the Maryland Annotated Code provides the
statutory authority for this government entity.
- Tri-County Council of Western Maryland - Originally
known as the Governor's Council for Appalachian Maryland
(1968), this council became an independent agency in
1986 with the passage of Chapter 861. The Council consists
of 27 members from Allegany, Garrett, and Washington
Counties who have the responsibilities similar to those
of the Southern Council. It is also responsible for
the General Development Plan for the area. Statutory
authority can be found in Article 20A of the Maryland
- City of Baltimore Municipal Handbook. Baltimore,
MD: Department of Legislative Reference, 1990.
- Maryland County Publications Checklist. Baltimore,
MD: Law Library Association of Maryland, 1999.
This is a comprehensive bibliography of published sources
for Baltimore City and Maryland counties arranged by
jurisdiction. Included are general codes, zoning regulations,
building codes, model codes and standards, other specialized
codes as adopted by the jurisdiction, and superseded
compilations. Also noted are publication dates, costs,
contacts, telephone numbers, and holding libraries.
- Maryland Local Government Handbook. Annapolis,
MD: Department of Legislative Reference, 1987.
- Understanding Maryland Government. Annapolis,
MD: Educational Consultants in the Humanities, 1985.
Availability of county materials:
The Marshall Law Library owns print versions of selected
county codes, which are classified in the Maryland collection.
(KFM1799...) (level 2)
Currently Lexis and Westlaw do not provide coverage of
The Maryland homepage at http://www.maryland.gov/
provides links to Maryland county web pages under "Local
Government." These vary considerably in type and
depth of available information but are worth checking